The following was delivered at Change Makers, ACT's 2024 rally at the Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland, on 9 June.


Thank you very much Simon, not only for that introduction, but for the work you are doing to replace the Resource Management Act with a law founded on property rights. It may be the most important long-term change that the Government makes.

Thank you, Paul, for being our special guest speaker. As advertised, you were infectiously funny, thoughtful, and passionate about the future of our country. Thank you also for your Party Vote.

Not only you, but a quarter of a million New Zealanders who gave ACT the Party Vote to make real change happen. I’d like to especially thank my neighbours in the Epsom Electorate for returning me a fourth time, and all those good people of Tamaki for choosing a change for the better in Brooke van Velden.

I’d like to acknowledge Brooke and all of our Ministers and Parliamentarians and the staff who support us. I feel so lucky to lead this team every day. They show ACT’s underlying strength. Our MPs come from all parts of the country, and all walks of life. They’re people like you and me, united by the simple idea that New Zealand will only succeed when each of us have an equal chance to determine our own success.

There are so many people that made ACT’s record result possible last year. Our movement has grown one thousand per cent in five years. My bank account wishes I’d grown a listed company instead but I’m proud to be leading ACT.

We’re not a company, but I’d like to thank everyone who’s invested in ACT’s success. Whether you invested your time, your money, or your voice to our movement. Whether you were a candidate, an activist, or a voter. You are now a shareholder in our Party’s achievements.

Of course, any company or Party needs a Board. I’d like to acknowledge our Board and Council, including our past President Henry Lynch and current Acting President Catherine Isaac. We are lucky that people step up for the most thankless job in politics, and we should thank them when we get the chance.

Today, I’d like to talk to the people in this room. People who paid for a political rally called change makers. We called it that because making change happen is what ACT does. Thank you for navigating downtown Auckland to be here, that in itself shows real commitment.

Change Makers

We think change makers has a deeper meaning, about our underlying spirit. ACT is the party for people who believe they have the responsibility, and the right, to make a difference in their own lives, and the lives of those they care about.

If you wonder why ACT has grown one thousand per cent in five years, it’s because our spirit reflects the heart of the New Zealand spirit.

We live an exceptional country. At our best, we’re made up of many peoples succeeding peacefully side by side. With all the conflict, poverty, and despair in the world, we really don’t know how lucky we are.

Our peace and prosperity are possible here because something unites us. It’s something we all have in common. It may be the only we all have in common: You or your ancestors travelled further for a better tomorrow than anyone else on earth.

Many of us have multiple journeys in our past. Some of mine and Nicole and Karen’s ancestors were early sailors across the Pacific Ocean. People who study these things have shown that Polynesian journeys could not have been random, they were planned and deliberate. Those navigators were the astronauts of their time.

Sailing wooden boats in the 19th century with charts and sextants may have been easier, but not much. So many of us are descended from people like Brooke’s Irish many-greats Grandmother Norah Dillon. She arrived as a single woman around the time of the Treaty, likely running from Dickens’ dark satanic mills to somewhere with hope.

You’d have to be hardy to get on a sailing ship to the other side of the world as a young single woman in the 1830s, and I think some of Norah’s genes are shining through in our country’s youngest Cabinet Minister today.

Mark Cameron’s ancestors left their limestone dugouts in Wales over 150 years ago. Don’t tell the Greens but they moved to Waihi and started mining to provide for the welfare of human beings.

As the years went on, travel got easier, but migration remains one of the bravest things you can do. If entrepreneurship is taking risk for reward, then moving your entire existence to an unfamiliar land, at the bottom of the world, is the most entrepreneurial thing you can do.

Despite the risks, entrepreneurial people keep coming, wave after wave. Pacific Islanders left their homes for economic opportunity. Asians sought a better lifestyle, education and political freedom, Africans fled conflict and corruption, even more Brits came seeking some decent weather.

Parmjeet, the brainiest ACT MP, is one of those modern migrants. She flew around the globe from India to an unfamiliar land. She gained a PhD in science, raised two boys including a police officer and another scientist, and built a successful export business. Can I just say, how Kiwi is that?

In total four of ACT’s MPs were born overseas. In our caucus of everyday New Zealanders, we can count a version of nearly every Kiwi migration story.

We all came to seek better futures. That is who we are, a nation of pioneers, and that is why a party that celebrates the pioneering spirit has been asked by you the voters to represent New Zealand and that is why we are growing so rapidly.

The Challenges of our Nation 

I love our heritage as nation of migrants, and I’ve told a version of that story many times. The problem is, people are now voting with their feet, and they’re not voting New Zealand.

In the year up to this March, 78,000 citizens left New Zealand on a permanent or long-term basis. 26,000 returned. The net loss of 52,000 citizens is the largest outflow of in our history.

The story of our founding has reversed, now the risk-takers and the brave ones are migrating away from New Zealand. There’s lots of obvious reasons, but they’re all parts of a bigger picture.

It’s not just that productivity growth is woeful. The ‘cost of living crisis’ of the past three years is really a productivity crisis. Stuff you need costs more than you find affordable, particularly the essentials.

It’s not just that the wage gap has grown with our closest neighbour, after being told by a previous Prime Minister in 2008 that we were going to close that gap.

It’s not just that bad planning and infrastructure policy has made it too expensive for a whole generation to build homes like their parents and grandparents did.

It’s not just that crime has given way to lawlessness, that restricts people’s freedom to go about their lives every day.

It’s not just that decades of policy with race at the heart of decision making has left us less trusting and more divided as a country.

It’s not just that red tape and regulation has disempowered people, replacing the No. 8 wire, can-do kiwi attitude with a culture of fear and compliance.

It’s not just that fewer children are attending school regularly and learning less when they do.

It’s not just that five times as many young people report mental distress as they did a decade ago.

All of those trends are well known. They all got worse under the latest Labour Government, but they all started before then. We’ve been drifting as a nation under successive governments.

These maladies are not the real problems though. They’re just symptoms of a deeper disease. We have lost our confidence as a country because we’ve forgotten the spirit it was founded on. We’ve forgotten the importance of each person flourishing in their own way, on their own terms, free from government overreach and fear of what others will think and do.

Instead, a new set of values have grown up to smother our pioneering spirit. There’s lots of people we can blame, but that won’t do us any good in the end.

We can blame identity politics. There’s an obsession with who you are, or how you were born. Your identity matters more than your actions in life. We spend too much time focused on this group or that, forgetting that there’s one group, humanity, made up of people who face challenges and choices in their one time on earth.

We can blame the regulatory state for replacing real responsibility. Regulation has become a giant scheme to prevent anyone ever having to take a risk or make a real decision. So long as you tick all the boxes on the lending form, put out enough orange cones, and have a suitable ‘procedure’ written for everything your organization does, you have covered your responsibilities.

We can blame the bloated welfare state that’s given poor people nothing but more company. Having social problems? So long as enough money is thrown at the problem (without any accountability) and everyone involved is smothered in ‘wrap around support’ (which is seemingly the hiring of more consultants who write more papers about problems that are easily visible) then the problem is (somehow magically) solved.

We can blame the unions for their weird combination of self-interest and mediocrity. When your core business is keeping the worst worker in their job, you can be forgiven for lacking a little aspiration.

Those factors aren’t it either. The real problem is the deep human desire to follow the leader and be part of a tribe. It’s given rise to a kind of neo-tribalism, and neo-racism that infects almost every institution in our society.

People can be forgiven for wondering how it is that our legal system, our public service, our academic institutions and many of our politicians seem infected by ideas contrary to the spirit of our free society.

We see assertions that Tikanga is the ‘first law of New Zealand’ when it is not law but a belief system held by some New Zealanders, but not others. We see a public service more focused on identity politics than practical delivery. We see university campuses canceling speakers to keep students safe from ideas they don’t like. Even corporate New Zealand spends more and more time on virtue signaling than looking after its customers.

If we let those ideas and those forces win, then we will watch more people leave as we become a nice Pacific backwater of broken sprits and deflated dreams.

We need to respond by articulating why an open society is better than a closed one. We need to articulate that human rights are universal, that there is one world and one reality that we can all join hands and problem solve our way through.

The evidence for our side of this argument is overwhelming. For one hundred thousand years people lived in tribal societies where people knew their place and filled a role depending on their birth. Then, the enlightenment happened.

It was a revolution in thinking: The simple idea that each of us is a thinking and valuing being with equal dignity, deserving an equal choice to make the most of their time on earth.

It brought about democracy, the rule of law, business, free markets, global trade, and emancipation of oppressed peoples everywhere. And what did it mean for real people? It doubled human life expectancy from around 40 to around 80. The average person literally gets a whole extra life since the enlightenment, and it’s never happened ever before.

Some say enlightenment values don’t apply to them. That they’re just the invention of a few European countries, there are lots of ways to live. It used to be just the likes of the Taliban that said this, now we have whole Universities determined to ‘decolonise’ themselves of the spirit that made them.

These values are not ‘western. They are not ‘colonisation.’ They are universal human values that even the West only discovered recently. It was only four hundred years ago that the last person was burned at the stake for heresy in England.

The spirit of the enlightenment is relevant to everyone, including to us today. It is precisely enlightenment values that will help New Zealand overcome its problems.

If we’re going to live first world lives with lower carbon emissions, we must have technological innovation that can only come from a dynamic free market. In fact all challenges we face from health to education to infrastructure can only be overcome by unlocking the creativity or each person, because you never know who’s going to have the next great idea.

That is the spirit of charter schools. Sometimes people in business and community just have better ideas for engaging disadvantaged students than people in the Ministry of Education.

If we’re going to overcome the crisis in mental health among the young, then we must again become a place where people can make a real difference in their own lives. It’s called self-esteem because you can ultimately only earn it yourself.

It’s up to us, change makers, to discover anew the spirit that we know is still within us, yearning to be reignited and released. It’s up to us, change makers, to recreate a place of confident people succeeding on their own terms, a magnet for the brave and the entrepreneurial.

We all need to power the momentum as change makers.

ACT’s Job

The real job falls to us. As the ACT Party, supported by you the change makers, We need to create and fuel the circumstances that lift up each person to succeed in their own way so that we can all succeed.  We need to be bold and tackle the underlying problems within our society.

ACT is fearless when it comes to pointing out what is wrong and taking steps to put things right.

Time and time again we’ve stood up for the rights of people to live, and even die in a way of their choosing.

Who couldn’t be touched by the story of Tracy Hickman? We salute her as a person who lived her way. Even when with one of the worst challenges a person can face, she chose how to go and when to go on her terms.

I’m proud it was the ACT Party that finally let New Zealanders choose how they deal with a terminal illness. Giving choice and control at one of the most vulnerable times in life.

When the world went mad and made our gun laws even worse because the ones we had weren’t followed in the first place, it was the lone and lonely voice of ACT that stood up and said what was happening was wrong. Today Nicole McKee is putting those laws right so we can all be safer and freer at the same time.

The last Government came very close to introducing tougher hate speech laws and clamping down on our proud tradition of freedom of expression – only ACT’s tireless efforts stopped them.

When James Shaw and the Greens passed the mad Zero Carbon Act, only ACT stood up and said “no”.

Things got senseless again when COVID hit. The then Government lost perspective and its respect for people’s basic dignity, at one point forcing a pregnant New Zealand citizen to shelter with the Taliban. The Government told us daily what to do, where to go, how to live. The shut our borders for way too long leaving us stagnant and stranded as a nation with no way to grow out of the mess.

Again it was ACT that firmly and respectfully provided the other side of the story, that COVID was a problem, vaccination was a valid solution, but the Government’s response needed to be in proportion to the problem and respectful of people’s basic rights and dignities.

When ACT had almost no political capital, we put it into charter schools. There was no education crisis in the Epsom Electorate. We don’t just have the best schools in New Zealand there, we have the best schools in the world.  But that didn’t stop us from supporting the development of a way of learning that helped our less advantaged, and despite the last Government shutting charter schools down, we’re proud they’re back, because Labour may be able to shut down small schools for disadvantaged children, but they can’t shut down and idea, and they won’t be able to shut down hundreds of big charter schools next time.

Why did I as the MP for Epsom take on the unions, and let communities open better schools for mostly poor brown kids who never get a chance? Because nobody who sees the education statistics could stand idly by. Because ACT believes our country won’t overcome its challenges until we unlock the power of all individuals.

It is ACT who has stood up firmly for the farmers. Which under the prior Government were demonized. It would be easy to believe New Zealand’s farmers were some sort of terrorist group hell bent on destroying their own property, if you watched the last Government.

ACT that’s consistently defended landlords and small business owners who were cast as public enemy number one when what they have actually done is saved and sacrificed to help others with jobs and housing. Without them all we’d have is hunger, homelessness, and unemployment.

Then there’s the idea that others will not touch. The very foundation of our nation that you get shouted down for even discussing, unless you take the approved line from your ‘Treaty training.’

ACT has consistently, fearlessly and, most importantly, constructively, put the debate about our founding document on the agenda. We’ve forced the issue from dismissal to real debate. We want healthy debate so that we can find a way to be a united country.

Let me acknowledge Karen Chhour. Her story is remarkable. In many ways she is the living embodiment of ACT’s spirit. How many victims of Oranga Tamariki’s dysfunction get to be the Minister in charge of fixing it? She is absolutely a change maker.

Her reform of Section 7AA is perhaps the clearest example of putting the individual needs of each vulnerable child first. That’s not to say that their culture is not important, it’s very important. Under Karen’s reforms, it will come right after their physical safety, nutrition, warmth, love and education.

The establishment can no longer ignore the simple idea that the Treaty of Waitangi gives all New Zealanders Tino Rangatiratanga, the right to self-determine and live on our own terms.

We stand proud to ensure all New Zealanders should be valued equally, regardless of their race or the date they arrived here.

It's not just that we are fearless, it’s also that, from our opponents’ point of view, we are dangerously collegial. Much to the opposition’s disappointment, the Coalition Government is getting stronger as we work together each week.

It’s the opposition that’s united us, the mess they left requires us to work tightly in order to put right the disasters and timebombs that we discover on a weekly basis. With Chris Luxon and the National Party, and Winston Peters and the New Zealand First Party, we have a constructive team.

It’s also a team that is massively powered by the ideas of the ACT Party. Take the latest quarterly plan. In it were 36 action points, 18 of them driven by ACT Ministers or ACT’s coalition agreements

In fact, right across the board, ACT is instrumental in driving the Government’s agenda. For three decades oppositions have told voters the Government is destroying life as they know it, then changed little once in office.

This time is different. Three Waters, the Māori Health Authority, insane speed limits, Labour’s hash of an RMA reform, Māori Council Wards, thousands upon thousands of bureaucrats that Labour hired. They are all gone, gone, gone. We’re not even funding the Mongrel Mob to rehabilitate people from the drugs they sell anymore.

In their place we are bringing the budget back to surplus. We’re bringing back charter schools and replacing the Resource Management Act with laws based on property rights. We’re passing the Regulatory Standards Bill so the regulated have some rights. We’re making it official Government policy to deliver services on need, not race. We’re reviewing the dismal Aotearoa Histories Curriculum, enforcing free speech on campus, and testing the questionable assumption that racial discrimination at med school has actually got better outcomes for that oft forgotten group -the patients.

Less than a year ago at ACT’s 2023 rally I announced we would campaign on a Ministry of Regulation. There are thirty-odd departments making regulation, we reasoned, so why not one to delete it? There is a whole Treasury Department devoted to spending what’s been taxed off you, so why not one to manage regulation of the property you still have.

I’m proud to stand as New Zealand’s first Minister of Regulation, with a Ministry whose job it is to go on search and destroy missions looking for red tape to cut. I think it’s fair to say they’re in demand and they’re going to be busy, but they’re going to make New Zealand a better place for change makers.

ACT’s Ministers are working across the board to make change for our country. I’ve mentioned Simon Court, and Karen Chhour.

Brooke van Velden is restoring sanity to the Holidays Act and sick leave that have caused so much heartache for employers and workers alike. She is going to reform the Health and Safety at Work Act so some common sense and safety can prevail at work.

Nicole is keeping a promise. That our firearm laws will be fair and reasonable again, for the safety of all and the freedom of licensed Firearm owners. She’s also making the Courts work faster by upgrading their systems, because delays in justice are at a crucial bottle neck of our problems with law and order.

In Andrew Hoggard and Mark Cameron we have two actual farmers in actual farming roles. It’s their work as Minister and Committee chair that is resetting freshwater and climate rules to reflect local realities instead of unworkable plans from on high. Most importantly, people who tend the land to feed other humans can feel respected again.

Never has an incoming Government carried out such a bonfire of bad ideas, and set out with bold new ones the way this Government has. We have the most ambitious Government in half a lifetime, and it’s the first time ACT’s been in Cabinet, and that is no coincidence.

The transformation ACT enables

That is the work of ACT in Government. A fearless group of MPs from all walks of life, united by the powerful idea that we need to unlock the potential of each person to make a difference in their own lives.

We have grown a movement from nowhere to everywhere. We are making change but we could not do it without the change makers in this room, and people who share your spirit up and down the country.

And yet, before you know it, we’ll be circling back to an election again.

Make no mistake, our opponents and their damaging ideas could be back in power just over two years from now.

On trend the next left wing Government will be much worse than the Ardern regime. Roger Douglas was better than Helen Clark. Helen Clark was better than Jacinda Ardern. Can you see where this is going?

The best advice I can give to Chris Hipkins is to start with a blank piece of paper, and stand for something. If he doesn’t someone else will fill in the blanks for him, and chances are it won’t be good for New Zealand.

Chloe Swarbrick has mastered the politicians’ soundbite. Her main soundbite is that she’s not a politician. Marama Davidson has checked out, nobody can tell when it happened.

Te Pāti Māori are bringing shame to the word Māori. The idea of a race-based party has always been wrong, but it’s hard to believe the mighty totaras who built their party can approve of the outright hatred they are now spewing.

My challenge to them is simple. If their ideas are so good, they should be able to persuade people to support them. If they’re not, then stop lowering the standards of political debate in our country.

Our allies in Government have said they’d get ‘faster decisions’ if they didn’t need to consult ACT. But New Zealand doesn’t need faster decisions, it needs better decisions. Nobody believes the current Government would be dealing to Labour’s legacy of waste and division so decisively without ACT, without all you change makers who put is here.

Without ACT, there would be no courage and fearlessness to get things done, to say it like it is, to make the change this country so urgently needs. 

Today I set a goal, and it is one based on data and evidence. We now poll the country every fortnight, it is vital to understand voters’ concerns. I want to thank ACT’s donors because your generosity makes that polling possible.

We ask who’s interested in voting for ACT, on a scale of one to ten. If you’re an eight or higher, then there’s a very good chance you’ll vote for us. That number shows the health of our brand and our true potential.

It goes up and down each fortnight, but on average we find twenty-two per cent of New Zealanders rate their chances of voting ACT an eight or higher. That’s a much higher figure than New Zealand First, and even higher than the greens. ACT now has the third strongest brand in New Zealand politics, and that’s something we can be truly proud of.

No party gets a vote from every likely voter, because some voters say they’re likely to vote for more than one party. Getting two thirds is a noble goal. That would put ACT at 15 per cent at the next election. It would complete ACT’s transformation from an insurgent small party to the small large party you are helping us build.

ACT will be a permanent and significant force for good in New Zealand politics with you, you the change makers.

ACT will be an anchor to the roots of enlightenment thinking that has made our peaceful and prosperous society possible.

Each person has the same universal human dignity, no matter where they’re from. Each person has the freedom to try, to live their life their way, and succeed in the way that they choose.

In the beginnings of New Zealand people who arrived on our shores were brave and free and made their own luck. We have a shared history of pioneering, facing adversity and finding a way, overcoming obstacles to make for a better tomorrow.

Over time we seem to have lost a lot of that spirit. ACT and its change makers believe that our original spirit is precious and want to bring it back, to reignite it. Because that is when New Zealand succeeds, but right now we are floundering. The country has lost its way because for so long we have been told what to do, and even how to think.

ACT believes that if the choice and the equal chance and the opportunity and the freedom were handed back to each one of us – we can make our own luck again. But we need change to make that happen. That is why we need you. Change makers.

With a political force that fearlessly champions that spirit, we can overcome the disease of neo-tribalism and neo-racism that has infected so many of New Zealand’s institutions. New Zealand can be reborn as a liberal democratic society where the dignity of each person is paramount. Where Kiwis are free to innovate and stand on their own two feet. Where spark, vitality, courage, aspiration and work ethic are celebrated. Where we move forward just like our pioneering ancestors did, always seeking the best for ourselves and our families and with a Government that trusts us to do it the way we want.

Thank you very much for being here today, we’re only just getting started.

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